Human Trafficking in Mexico
Human trafficking in Mexico has been a problem for years. Traffickers exploit both domestic and foreign victims. As a common tourist destination, it is important that human trafficking in Mexico is curbed.

What is Human Trafficking?

According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, human trafficking “involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act.” Yearly, there are millions of individuals who are trafficked. Many instances involve Mexico, either as a transportation hub or a point of origin for trafficking victims. Traffickers will coerce individuals to lure them into labor or any sexual exploitation. There are still many gray areas regarding trafficking so it is very important to recognize indicators to protect potential victims. In addition to this, reporting any suspected trafficking is critical to keeping people safe.

Human Trafficking in Mexico

Mexico is not unfamiliar with this issue, with growing increments of human trafficking in the country. Due to corruption and disparities, both social and economic, certain groups in Mexico are considered more vulnerable to trafficking. These groups include women, children, indigenous people, individuals with disabilities and migrants.

Those suffering from poverty are also more vulnerable to trafficking. Individuals who are desperately in need of financial support will take up risky jobs in order to provide for their families, sometimes leading to human trafficking. Additionally, the undereducated are at an increased risk. Traffickers target girls that lack education, most likely due to economic reasons, to sell them into marriage. Human trafficking in Mexico is a result of socio-economic disparities, harmful social norms and economic inequity, all of which fuel the trafficking.

Government Efforts

Due to a lack of awareness and education, Mexico has struggled to reduce human trafficking. Legal solutions, such as the anti-trafficking law passed in 2004, are only the first step to effectively stopping human trafficking in the country. Currently, the Mexican government is reviewing the “failing” anti-human trafficking policy and working to provide better support for victims.

This review has shown that a direct financial approach by the government itself would be more beneficial to those who needed it the most. Investing in systems operations and rehabilitation would help more than corruptible laws. Furthermore, the government is acknowledging its shortcomings in data and analysis when it comes to trafficking. In order to correct this, it is working to create a better, more reliable system.

Receiving a mixed response, the Mexican government also announced the discontinuation of supporting anti-trafficking NGOs. The country intends to establish its own shelters and relief centers for victims in Mexico. Despite some criticism, this shift will hopefully have a positive impact on trafficking victims in the country.

Moving forward, it is crucial that the government and humanitarian organizations continue to make addressing human trafficking a priority. You can learn more about human trafficking in Mexico here.

– Nicole Sung
Photo: Flickr

Sustainable Farming in South Africa
The AgriTourZA Limpopo is an initiative that will showcase 20 innovative South African youth creating apps for sustainable farming in South Africa. The South Africa Department of Science and Innovation (DSI), mLab South Africa and the Council for Scientific Research (CSIR) will select four of the 20 finalists. These finalists will create a sustainable ecosystem for farming and travel in Limpopo, South Africa.

Closing the Digital Gap in Africa’s Farming Community

Africa is continuing to evolve digitally as more advancements in mobile technology improve communities in the economic and work sector. However, developing countries are still behind in gaining the resources necessary to use technology like mobile phones, which can help with communication and benefit the farming industry. In the past few decades, farmers in Africa experienced successful advancements like access to affordable mobile phones. These mobile phones provide apps that improve access to vital services like mobile banking. Mobile phones also make it easier for farmers to receive weather alerts and marketing opportunities.

Despite these technological advancements for farmers, there is still a need for digital integration within rural farming communities in Africa. Three South African organizations are working together to shine a light on the local tech developers creating effective solutions that benefit the farming communities in Africa.

Supportive Organizations Guiding Future Tech Innovators

The Southern Africa Mobile Applications Laboratory (mLab) is a nonprofit organization with an aim to support innovative startups in the technology field. It currently holds an open innovation lab with programs assisting youth in skill development and co-creation sessons with industry partners. mLab’s 2014 report showed that its startups created jobs for participants. Furthermore, mLab has aided sustainable farming in South Africa as farmers connected to its local markets earned an additional $155 per month, adding up to $2.7 million a year. mLab is actively looking for startups aimed at making a social impact. One of these is AgriTourZA, an organization involving youth.

The South Africa Science and Innovation Department (DSI) provides leadership and resources for science, technology and innovation within South Africa to further strengthen the country’s development. Its latest achievements include opening an Information and Communications Technology (ICT) building in Limpopo’s Sekhukhune Technical College. The ICT building is a multimedia center with a design to assist the school’s visually impaired students.

Along with mLab and DSI, the Council for Scientific Research in South Africa (CSIR) also works towards accelerating technological advancements in South Africa. Beginning in 1945, through an Act of Parliament, the organization is continuing to accomplish scientific development. This has occurred through research, innovation, socio-economic transformation and building human capital and infrastructure for South Africa. With the help of the CSIR and DSI, mLab will help bring AgriTourZA finalists to the Startup Accelerator Program where participants will get the chance to see their startups become real-world solutions that serve their communities.

AgriTourZA

The AgriTourZA Limpopo Innovation Platform will bring young technologists to the forefront with their tech-centered creations aimed to improve conditions for farmers across Africa. Four of the 20 participants will become finalists in the Accelerator Program with the opportunity to start on their projects and contribute to real-world solutions for their communities. They will also gain technical, business and soft skills to successfully bring their ideas to the market. Additionally, the chosen contestants will receive mentoring from mLab to develop and achieve success in their solutions. The 20 participating startups include Nosetsa, Riverside Tech Solutions, Easy Farming, CODECS, Software Fanatics and several others.

mLab’s provincial coordinator Palesa Anthony says South Africa’s local youth have the drive and insight to solve the region’s unique challenges in today’s agriculture. These startups will contribute to lessening the digital gap between Africa’s farming community and the rapidly evolving technology happening.

These digital solutions can bring innovation and ease to farmers who lack resources to connect with other farmers and provide farming solutions in South Africa so they can enter more lucrative and profitable positions. On the other hand, Africa’s youth will have an opportunity to gain lifelong skills within the technology and business sector by building their skills in the program.

Nia Owens
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Humanitarian crisis in MadagascarThree years of drought and a sharp recession caused by COVID-19 have left a third of Southern Madagascar’s population unable to put food on the table. Extreme malnutrition rates are on the rise and many children are having to beg to help families survive. Immediate action is needed to avert this humanitarian crisis in Madagascar.

Food Insecurity and Malnutrition

In southern Madagascar, the situation has been progressively worsening. The number of people needing humanitarian assistance has doubled to 1.3 million due to “famine-like conditions.” The World Food Programme (WFP) stated that successive droughts and a lack of jobs linked to COVID-19 restrictions are to blame. With 300,000 people in need of safe-living support, governments and humanitarian organizations need to act immediately. Weary communities have few resources to fall back on.

Furthermore, many people have had to leave their homes to search for food and job opportunities. Approximately 1.14 million people, or 35% of Madagascar’s population, are food insecure. This figure is nearly double what it was last year due to the second wave of COVID-19. The pandemic resulted in fewer seasonal employment opportunities between January and April 2021, which affected families relying on this form of income.

Children are the most vulnerable to the food crisis. Many children have dropped out of school to beg for food on the streets. By the end of April 2021, more than 135,00 children were estimated to be acutely malnourished in some way, with 27,000 children between the ages of 6 to 59 months suffering from severe acute malnourishment.

Drought Conditions

According to the WFP, Madagascar’s susceptibility to climate shocks is contributing to the ongoing crisis. A WFP official stated that rains usually fall between November and December. However, the entire area only received one day of rain in December 2020. Thunderstorms have also been wreaking havoc on the fields, destroying and burying the crops.

With markets closed because of COVID-19 restrictions and people forced to sell their possessions to survive, the U.N. warned that drought conditions are expected to persist well into 2021. The anticipated conditions are forcing more people to flee their homes in search of food and jobs. WFP South Africa and Indian Ocean State Region Director Lola Castro explained that “the population of the South relies on casual labor and goes to urban areas or to the fields to really have additional funds that will allow them to survive during the lean season.” However, she noted that “this year there was no labor, they moved around without finding any labor anywhere, both in urban areas or in the rural areas, due to the drought and due to the COVID lockdown.”

Humanitarian Aid

Humanitarian organizations delivered assistance across the Grand Sud, the southernmost region of Madagascar, between January and March 2021. Organizations supplied food aid to 700,000 people and improved access to drinking water, sanitation and hygiene for 167,200 people. Furthermore, 93,420 children and pregnant and lactating mothers received dietary care and services. The WFP also provided food assistance to almost 500,000 severely food insecure people in the nine hardest-hit districts in the south. Given the rapidly deteriorating situation, it intends to scale up its assistance to reach almost 900,000 of the most vulnerable by June 2021.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and persistent droughts, the humanitarian crisis in Madagascar is worsening. The country needs more support to fund lifesaving food and cash distributions as well as malnutrition treatment programs. Moving forward, it is essential that the government and humanitarian organizations make addressing the humanitarian crisis in Madagascar a priority.

Aining Liang

Photo: Flickr

4 Facts about Healthcare in Bulgaria
Bulgaria is culturally diverse and geographically unique. The Balkan nation borders the Black Sea and has Greek, Slavic, Ottoman and Persian influences. Still suffering from the effects of the 2008 financial crisis; however, Bulgaria is the most impoverished country in the European Union based on GDP per capita. The Eastern European country has seen both success and shortcomings in attempting to address healthcare outcomes. Here are four facts about healthcare in Bulgaria.

4 Facts About Healthcare in Bulgaria

  1. Spending on healthcare in Bulgaria is low. In 2018, the Bulgarian healthcare budget was approximately $2.2 billion, or 4.3% of the Bulgarian GDP. As one of the lowest spenders in Europe, the system in Bulgaria relies on out-of-pocket payments. This is problematic because it limits access to healthcare, particularly for those living in poverty. Moreover, external development is not helping solve the problem. Such sources provide only one percent of the total health funds in Bulgaria.
  2. There have been gradual improvements in healthcare outcomes. Despite low spending levels, healthcare outcomes in Bulgaria have been progressively improving. Life expectancy in Bulgaria has been increasing throughout the past four decades. Between 2000 and 2015, the Bulgarian life expectancy increased by 3.1 years. The death rate for circulatory system diseases has also declined since 2000, following its peak in the 1990s. While Bulgaria has been making progress in these areas, the most significant is related to infant mortality rates. In 2000, the infant mortality rate was 13.3 per 1,000 live births, but the rate decreased to 6.6 in 2015. The neonatal mortality rate also decreased, roughly halving between 1980 to 2015.
  3. Healthcare in Bulgaria is financed by both public and private sources. In order to generate funds, Bulgaria employs a mixed-finance system. While the government covers some portions of healthcare, private sources finance many procedures. There is a rough balance, with 57.8% of total health expenditures from public finances and 42.2% from private sources. The percent of private expenditures, however, is increasing at a faster rate than public expenditures. On the public side, the most significant health service purchase is the National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF). While citizens are free to purchase additional insurance packages, “less than 3% of the population purchased some form of voluntary health insurance in 2020.”
  4. Healthcare in Bulgaria is undermined by a dwindling healthcare workforce. The overwhelming impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has illuminated one of the most significant struggles of healthcare in Bulgaria: there simply aren’t enough healthcare workers. While Bulgaria has received substantial investment from international organizations like the European Union to upgrade medical infrastructure, these funds do little to ensure Bulgaria has a thriving healthcare workforce. At present, thousands of Bulgarian healthcare workers are finding better-paying jobs in Western Europe. Kristina Macneva, an emergency doctor that has stayed in Bulgaria, explains that “the main problem is the lack of medical staff” and that they are in “dire need.”

Looking Ahead

Though great strides have been made in healthcare in Bulgaria, more work still needs to be done to ensure all citizens are receiving quality care. Moving forward, it is essential that the government devotes more resources to healthcare in the nation.

– Kendall Carll
Photo: Flickr

Bamboo in MalawiIn Malawi, 90% of Malawians do not have access to electricity or other forms of energy. Lack of access to energy sources forces Malawians to rely on firewood. As deforestation has become widespread, rural Malawians needed a new and improved source of fuel. The bamboo initiative implemented by Afribam, USAID and the Peace Corps provides a solution. Bamboo in Malawi provides an alternative fuel source to help millions get access to energy.

Bamboo as an Alternative

Bamboo in Malawi is a beneficial and valuable fuel source. Malawians use bamboo, a wood-like plant, for many activities such as cooking, building furniture and housing materials. Malawians, especially in rural areas, rely on bamboo because of deforestation, making it difficult for rural Malawians to access firewood. Locals must travel a great distance to reach forests that are still intact. Additionally, buying firewood can be costly.

Deforestation: Causes and Effects

Lack of access to electricity leads to overconsumption of firewood. Because of the reliance on firewood, deforestation is widespread throughout Malawi. Forests take years to replenish, meaning the consumption of wood is greater than the rate at which trees can grow back. Furthermore, the lack of access to electricity leads to an overconsumption of firewood, which leads to deforestation. Deforestation creates negative effects throughout Malawi. The effects of deforestation in Malawi include:

  • Increased soil erosion
  • Excess flooding
  • More droughts than normal
  • Decreased crop productivity
  • Lack of fuel access for rural Malawians
  • Malawians are forced to travel further to obtain firewood

Deforestation can cause many complications. It is important to ease the consumption of fuelwood and allow Malawi’s forests to regenerate to prevent harmful effects. Bamboo in Malawi provides an alternative fuel source that can counter the effects of deforestation and help alleviate poverty.

The Power of Collaboration

To solve fuel problems in Malawi, USAID’s Feed the Future Malawi Agriculture Diversification Activity program began a collaboration in February 2019 with AfriBam and the Peace Corps Volunteers to implement bamboo as a fuel alternative. AfriBam is a Malawian company that specializes in bamboo and bamboo-related technology in Africa.

Together, USAID, AfriBam and the Peace Corps distributed Dendrocalamus asper, a non-invasive species of bamboo, throughout Malawi to counteract the effects of deforestation and provide Malawians with adequate fuel. The reason Dendrocalamus asper is special is that this type of bamboo only takes five to seven years to mature, and it can be harvested after just three years. This means that the bamboo will be able to replenish itself well enough to provide an ongoing fuel supply, eliminating the fear of overconsumption. Throughout 2019, the collaboration reached 1,750 rural Malawian households and distributed more than 180,000 bamboo seedlings.

The Peace Corps revealed that its goal is for Malawians to use the bamboo, in the short term, as a source of cooking fuel, which will ease the pressure on forests so that the forests can recover. USAID believes that this species of bamboo will be more successful than some other fuel projects implemented in Malawi. Previously, rural Malawians received cookstoves that used firewood as fuel, but because of deforestation, the implementation of cookstoves was not successful. USAID is confident that by 2025 the species of bamboo will account for 20% of fuelwood for all of Malawi.

Looking Forward

The new species of bamboo in Malawi will bring a unique type of fuel to rural Malawians. This development is advantageous because deforestation of firewood led to several unforeseen complications. With the help of AfriBam, USAID and the Peace Corp Volunteers’ collaboration, bamboo will help poverty reduction in Malawi by providing Malawians with a reliable fuel source.

– Bailey Lamb
Photo: Flickr

Vaccines to Southeast Asia
Southeast Asia sits as an outlier in its success as a region in managing the pandemic. In fact, countries like Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand were better prepared to deal with the pandemic than most. Without hesitation, countries in the area utilized their experience and resources to manage the outbreaks in a fashion that prevented high economic costs. Nonetheless, after recent spikes and a lack of access to vaccines, a worry is growing in policymakers across the region that inoculating the populations will be difficult to accomplish. COVAX is a WHO initiative that provides significant assistance in this struggle as it has promised millions of vaccinations to countries across the region. COVAX donated millions of vaccines to Southeast Asia to assist in its inoculation outreach.

Southeast Asia and COVID-19

Aside from a few outliers including Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines, much of Southeast Asia has fared well managing the pandemic. For example, Brunei, Vietnam, Timor Liste, Laos and Singapore all have total COVID-19 related deaths under 100. Similarly, both Cambodia and Thailand are under 1,000 COVID-19 related deaths. Almost all of these countries boast populations in the millions, with Vietnam alone having nearly 100 million people.

In sharp contrast, the wealthier developed nations in Northeast Asia fared far worse than the underdeveloped neighbors to the south. Japan has recorded 11,940 deaths and over 650,000 cases. Less stark, South Korea has recorded nearly 2,000 deaths and over 134,000 cases. 

Essentially, Southeast Asian nations achieved this through a decisive response to the initial outbreak and a culture that made universal mask-wearing (95% of Thais and 94% of Vietnamese wear masks in public) and precautions palatable. The efficiency in response emerged from experience in dealing with previous outbreaks including SARS, bird flu and dengue fever. As cases began to rise in China and worry about the virus grew, countries across the region sprang into action. Southeast Asian countries initiated lockdowns, border closures, contact tracing and widespread testing. Many instituted public service campaigns to promote safety precautions, including mask-wearing and social distancing. 

Success 

Vietnam illustrates this point well. Despite sharing a border with the epicenter of China, it has been a rare success story. After dealing with the SARS and the bird flu in 2000, it increased its medical infrastructure investment by 9% a year. As a result, when news about COVID-19 began to come out of Wuhan, Vietnam acted decisively. The country increased its screening procedures and extended the Lunar holiday to keep families at home. Vietnam also chose localized lockdowns as clusters developed, opposed to nationwide lockdowns that impose high economic costs. The national government also had a thorough testing and a contact tracing regime that slowed down the spread through proactive quarantining.

Vaccination

Nevertheless, the resources and experience that lend themselves to managing the pandemic with efficiency are not necessarily applicable to inoculating the population. Southeast Asia does not have an established pharmaceutical industry that can develop a homegrown vaccine. As a region filled with low- to middle-income countries, purchasing the vaccines necessary to inoculate the entire population is difficult. Without a vaccinated population, states remain vulnerable to COVID-19 spikes.

As a result, the vaccination rates are low in most Southeast Asian nations. As of May 17, 2021, none of the states in the region have vaccinated more than 10% of their population, except for Singapore, which vaccinated 23% of its population. Cambodia is the second-largest vaccinated population at 7% while Brunei is the least vaccinated at 0.2%. All other Southeast Asian states fall within the two rates.

The lack of vaccinations has become acutely problematic as Southeast Asia is bracing for a new wave of infections that threatens to become unmanageable. Cambodia’s daily rate shot up to nearly 500 a day. In the last three weeks, Laos has seen daily cases rise tenfold. Even in Vietnam, the poster child of managing the pandemic, “community transmissions began climbing sharply [as] workers have been told to prepare for 30,000 patients.” As Southeast Asia deals with the new surge, vaccinating its population becomes critical.

COVAX

Nevertheless, to make up for this shortfall, WHO has donated millions of vaccines to Southeast Asia through COVAX. It began on March 2, 2021, when Cambodia received 300,000 vaccines. On April 23, 2021, Malaysia received 268,000 doses, and WHO aims to provide Malaysia 6 million in total. On May 8, Indonesia received 1.3 million AstraZeneca COVAX procured vaccines and is supposed to receive 6 million by the end of May. The Philippines received 2 million AstraZeneca vaccines and 193,000 Pfizer vaccines. Meanwhile, in late March, Vietnam welcomed 811,000 AstraZeneca vaccines in its first batch of vaccines from the COVAX fund.

As the world looks to turn the corner towards a post-pandemic world, vaccinating lower to middle-income countries similar to those in Southeast Asia is a necessary and critical step. Work must occur to inoculate the region to levels to allow a post-pandemic world to manifest. For example, BioNTech announced that it would develop a new manufacturing space. External powers including the Quad, China and Russia promise millions more in vaccine donations and further COVAX procured donations. Yet, WHO took a critical first step when COVAX donated millions of vaccines to Southeast Asia.

Vincenzo Caporale
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Celebrities Come Together for Equitable COVID-19 Vaccine DistributionPrince Harry, Jennifer Lopez and other A-list celebrities join to push for more equitable COVID-19 vaccine distribution globally. Vax Live: The Concert to Reunite the World is a concert organized by Global Citizen and aired globally on May 8.

The Organization

Global Citizen typically focuses its efforts on eliminating severe poverty. However, due to the rise of health and economic deprivation in developing nations during the pandemic, it has become involved with COVID-19 vaccine equality and COVID-19 relief efforts.

The CEO of Global Citizen, Hugh Evans, has spoken about the issues the organization aims to address with the concert event. “There are 27 million healthcare workers globally who don’t have access to the vaccine,” Evans told The Associated Press. “I’m 38 years old, and it’s not ethical for me to have access to the vaccine before these heroic first responders and community health workers. So we need governments to start urgently donating those doses.”

The Event

Singer, actress and producer, Selena Gomez was the host of the globally televised event, which aimed to raise $22 billion for global vaccinations. Many frontline medical workers attended the event, arriving dressed in their work uniforms.

Performances included the Foo Fighters and Eddie Vedder. There were appearances from the likes of Chrissy Teigen, David Letterman and Ben Affleck. There were also special messages from President Joe Biden, First Lady Biden and Pope Francis. These big names all came together to help fill the gaps in the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccinations.

The Cause

The rise of cases in India has emphasized the country’s lack of vaccine distribution. Since June 8, there have been 29 million cases with more than 350,000 deaths. India is one of the most prominent vaccine manufacturers in the world. Although vaccinations are open to all ages now, massive shortages are causing people to be turned away.

Low-to-middle-income countries do not have access to vaccines as developed countries stockpile vaccines. In fact, the United States has more than 550 million excess doses of the vaccine. Furthermore, developed countries will need to allow drug manufacturers to prioritize developing countries.

However, there is hope as nonprofits and NGOs continue to push for equal distribution of the vaccines. Global Citizen hopes to help vaccinate all healthcare workers by the end of 2021. The concert event, Vax Live, lobbied world leaders to come together to achieve equitable distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine. The event also raised the funding required to send two billion vaccine doses and COVID-19 tests to low-income countries by the end of 2021. “This is not ‘Mission Accomplished,’” said Evans. “But there is light at the end of the tunnel if we can ensure that there is equitable distribution of the vaccine.”

– Simran Pasricha
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Fashion can Contribute to PovertyFashion can contribute to poverty, but it is also a powerful force that lifts women out of poverty as it has stirred up a feminist movement. Brands that provide a living wage for female garment workers empower them to lead dignified lives. Additionally, these fashion brands give women access to a fair supply chain, proper work and fair wages. As a result, fashion consumers that support ethical fashion brands help advocate for women’s rights through their shopping decisions.

The Feminist Movement

The feminist movement supports women all over the globe. The fashion industry is part of the feminist movement because it is a female-dominated industry. According to Labour Behind the Label, 80% of garment workers worldwide are women. One example of the feminist movement in the fashion industry is the production of t-shirts with feminist quotes. In 2019, the Spice Girls’ #IWannaBeASpiceGirl t-shirts sold for Comic Relief’s “gender justice” campaign were made by Bangladeshi garment workers. However, Oxfam reported that same year that no Bangladeshi garment workers earned a living wage. These workers received 35 pence an hour during 54-hour workweeks, amounting to about £82, which is well below the living wage estimate. This is a clear example of how fashion can contribute to global poverty.

Fast Fashion

Fast fashion prioritizes the fast production of cheap clothing produced by garment workers all over the globe. According to the Clean Clothes Campaign, it is typical for a garment worker to work 96-hour workweeks. This is equal to 10 to 18 hours per day for wages that are two to five times less than what is needed to live sufficiently. In addition, the majority of profits made from fast fashion are paid to top fashion CEOs. In fact, Oxfam states that CEOs earn in four days what a garment worker will make in one lifetime.

Brands that pay garment workers a living wage allow employees to afford essential needs, such as housing, food, transportation, education and savings. In 2017, the Deloitte Access Economics report for Oxfam Australia stated that paying garment workers a living wage would only increase the retail price of clothing by 1%. Researchers from the University of New South Wales and the University of Queensland also found that increasing the cost of clothing by $0.20 would ensure Indian garment workers earn a living wage.

SOKO: Ethical Fashion

SOKO empowers garment workers by addressing the most vital human rights abuse in the fashion industry: the non-payment of a living wage. This women-led, ethical jewelry brand produces collections made by more than 2,300 independent Kenyan artisans. SOKO’s virtual manufacturing platform connects with a global marketplace to receive orders and payments. By leveraging technology, artisans earn five times more with SOKO compared to an average artisan workplace. In addition, this U.N.-endorsed brand guarantees workers freedom and sovereignty by limiting artisans’ work to 50% or less of their total capacity. As a result, SOKO artisans have experienced a 12% increase in average artisan income, and SOKO’s sales have impacted 11,400 beneficiaries.

Empowering Girls and Women

The U.N. reports that investing in girls and women helps improve their livelihoods in the long term. Moreover, studies from the World Bank show that providing basic education to girls until adulthood enables them to better manage their family’s needs, provide care for their family and send their children to school. This helps improve the lives of children and women all over the world. Empowering women also leads to reduced maternal and child mortality levels. When garment workers can afford to send their children to school, economic growth improves and poverty decreases.

The lives of underpaid garment workers are a testament to how fashion can contribute to poverty. Brands that support their garment workers contribute to the feminist movement. Brands support the movement by investing in female education, providing living wages, establishing safe working conditions and empowering workers. Consumers can support the movement by supporting ethical brands that strive to uplift the garment workers making their clothing.

Giselle Magana
Photo: Flickr

Canada’s Childcare FacilitiesOn April 19, 2021, the Canadian Government announced a new budget that includes increased support for Canada’s childcare facilities. The proposed financial support would reduce the average cost of childcare, granting the greatest benefit to Canada’s most economically vulnerable families. Though arranged by the federal government, the changes were advocated for by several non-governmental organizations (NGOs), including Child Care Now.

Government Promises

The government’s commitment to increasing childcare affordability is part of a newly proposed budget written to address the economic ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic. The new budget would allot $30 billion to childcare spending over the next five years.

The goal of the sizable expenditure is to nationally reduce the cost of childcare to an average of just $10 per day by 2025. If passed, federal money would be used in conjunction with provincial funding to subsidize Canada’s childcare facilities, thereby lowering the cost to parents. A portion of the $30 billion would also go toward improving the quality and accessibility of Canada’s childcare facilities.

Presently, costs for childcare vary widely across Canada. In Quebec’s cities, the monthly cost of childcare is less than $200 due to an initiative passed in 1997 that standardized childcare costs. Outside of Quebec, the average monthly cost can range anywhere from $451 in Winnipeg to more than $1,500 in Toronto. The high prices are burdensome for all Canadians, but particularly so for the nation’s impoverished communities.

Child Care, Poverty and the Pandemic

Though not the pandemic’s most obvious impact, a lack of affordable childcare has strained Canada’s economy over the past year. Some of the strain stems from Canada’s childcare facilities and schools being closed to prevent the spread of the virus. As a result, many working parents, particularly mothers, have had to take care of children instead of working.

The pressure that the COVID-19 pandemic has put on women and mothers is reflected in Canada’s 2020 labor statistics, which show that women have exited the workforce at higher rates than men. In fact, the number of men in Canada’s workforce has increased by more than 60,000, while the female workforce has shrunk by at least 20,000.

Impact on Mothers

A large proportion of the women impacted by job losses are low-income mothers. A review of labor statistics found that among mothers ages 25 to 54 who had children younger than 12 years old, the mothers making less than $1,200 per week accounted for most jobs lost within that maternal demographic. Mothers in that group who made more than $1,200 per week actually increased representation in the workforce by almost 12%.

The same report also shows that mothers left the workforce at higher rates than other Canadian women in 2020. For instance, among women ages 25 to 54 who make between $500 and $799 per week, there was an almost 34% decrease in employment among mothers compared to a 21% decrease among women without children. This trend holds true for other earning brackets below $1,200.

While not all job loss among Canadian women can be attributed to maternal responsibilities, motherhood has clearly been a contributing factor for many women who have lost jobs during the pandemic. The fact is particularly true for low-income mothers who are least likely to have a job that will allow them to work from home. Without access to affordable childcare, mothers will continue to remain stuck between joblessness and caring for their children. The new Canadian budget and its advocates aim to solve this bind.

Child Care Now

One of the NGOs that gave support to the new budgetary spending on childcare was Child Care Now. Child Care Now is a Canadian nonprofit organization founded in 1982. The organization advocates for increased government spending on public and nonprofit childcare facilities. The nonprofit’s membership is made up of parents, childcare professionals and all parties concerned with the availability of accessible, affordable and safe childcare. Among the most pressing goals is the expansion of public childcare options throughout Canada.

On February 19, 2021, Child Care Now submitted a budgetary consultation to the Federal Ministry of Finance. In this consultation, Child Care Now made a case for increased federal spending on Canadian childcare, both in response to the impacts of COVID-19 and as an investment in the future of Canada’s childcare system.

Among the recommendations made by Child Care Now is the allotment of $2 billion in emergency spending to bolster Canada’s childcare facilities as well as the allocation of an additional $10 billion over the next three years to increase the access and affordability of public and nonprofit childcare options. When the government announced $30 billion in new spending on childcare, the response from Child Care Now was enthusiastic.

The Road Ahead

While the new budget still needs to be passed by the Canadian House of Commons, Canada’s investment in affordable childcare shows that the government is committed to the well-being of Canadian families. Should the budget pass into law, it will undoubtedly benefit the low-income mothers who have suffered the brunt of the pandemics’ economic hardships.

Joseph Cavanagh
Photo: Flickr

Education in GhanaThere is a stark difference in education in Ghana between the northern and southern regions. 18-year-old Kelvin Odartei lives in Southern Ghana and recently became the first car-owner in his community. However, Odartei’s kinfolk in the northern regions of Ghana had no such chances. Despite a renowned ranking in Africa due to its natural wealth, Ghana struggles with educational infrastructure in the northern regions. Politics in northern regions have restricted learning possibilities. But today, things have changed.

History of the North and South Divide

Ghana was the first African country to gain its independence from British colonial rule. Kwame Nkrumah led the country to independence on March 6, 1957, while he formed Pan-African organizations across the continent. Nkrumah led successful efforts to expand literacy in Ghana. His administration built and funded multiple schools across the southern regions. As a result, many southern regions have an educated population of young adults.

However, that was not the case in Northern Ghana. Sources indicate that the Nkrumah administrations neglected the northern regions’ educational system in the 1960s due to tribal-nationalist conflicts that emerged alongside the post-colonial governing efforts. As quoted by President Nkrumah’s critics, “We were hoping that when Ghana was independent the newly all-African Government would provide the North with all that was required to free the North from ignorance… [I]nstead this the Government dominated by Southerners, are doing all they can to keep the Northerners down so that they can use them as servants.” Since then, not many governments have made efforts to increase the quality of education in the northern regions.

For instance, the Sanguli schools in the northern region, founded in 1961, had 500 students with only four teachers. The school’s quality and infrastructure were reported to include “inadequate infrastructure, insufficient teaching staff and lack of information, communication technology, ICT laboratories, as well as libraries.” As a result, the poverty rate has remained alarmingly high, according to concerned residents.

Lack of resources and budgets has also resulted in poor educational settings — students were forced to sit on the floor, potholes inside the classroom had issued health and safety concerns and parents reported students experiencing forced labor in teachers’ farms in exchange for school fees.

2017 and Beyond

Things took a turn in 2017 as Ghana’s current president Akufo-Addo ensured that all regions will have newly constructed schools and supplies. “There will be no admission fees, no library fees … no examination fees…. There will be free textbooks, free boarding and free meals.” You can learn more about recent reforms for education in Ghana here.

U.S.-founded Millenium Change Corporation (MCC) has funded over $9 million for Ghana’s educational sector. This includes money for the construction of 221 schools in Northern and Southern Ghana. Furthermore, since 2007, MCC has made groundbreaking “investments in education infrastructure [which] would lead to improved school access. Improved school outcomes would lead to poverty reduction through economic growth.”

Today, Ghana has one of the highest investments in education with “30% of the government budget on the educational sector” and 11% of the country’s GDP invested in public schools. Because of the increased educational infrastructure, young students like Odartei can feel confident that Ghana can carry their future dreams.

– Ayesha Swaray 
Photo: Flickr